Leadership and language launch Olympic journey

With the Tokyo Olympics officially opening tonight, Julee Brienen meets an Illawarra principal who is playing a key role with the Australian team.

23 July 2021
A woman wearing a face mask stands next to a kangaroo sculpture that is also masked up.
Image: In the green and gold: Caroline David on site at the Olympic Village in Tokyo.

It is not just athletes making their way to Tokyo 2020.

Caroline David, principal of Woonona High School, has taken on a starring role with the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) working for the Headquarters Operations Team in Tokyo for the course of the Olympics.

Ms David has a long affinity with Japan, and knew her experience of the language and culture, and her skills in managing people would make her a great fit for the AOC team.

“When it was announced in 2013 that Tokyo would host the 2020 Games, many of my friends and colleagues in both Japan and Australia assumed that I would play some part in the Olympics due to me being able to speak Japanese, and having had experience working in both Australia and Japan in a range of roles, that would enable me to be able to meaningfully support an Olympic operation,” Ms David said.

“I’ve visited Japan more than 35 times, the first of which was when I went there as an exchange student after I finished Year 12 in Wollongong.”

While Ms David didn’t know any Japanese at the time, she went back to school and gradually acquired the language.

She went on to work in Japanese-speaking fields for 15 years in Australia and Japan, before becoming a Japanese teacher in a local high school.

“I have worked as a translator and interpreter in a range of spaces such as on the Sony Play Station Project and as a medical interpreter,” Ms David said.

“I was a tour guide in Sydney for eight years and have led more than 20 cultural and linguistic tours to Japan.”

In the background

Ms David said her role with the AOC was primarily to support the creation of a high-performance environment for athletes.

“I am there primarily to serve the AOC so that athletes can be provided with the best environment possible to do their best,” she said.

“My support for the athletes will be in the background, ensuring that all the athletes needs are taken care of, with a ‘light touch’, meaning the athletes hopefully won’t even know that we are there,” she said.

Ms David said the combination of her skills and experience as a principal were well suited to her role in Tokyo.

“The role of a principal is very diverse and challenging,” Ms David said.

“Your head needs to be across a number of systems - human resources, finance, educational, assets, work health and safety - simultaneously, and decisions need to be made in a timely way that are well communicated, but without other people necessarily knowing all the background machinations behind the decisions.

“I also think my experiences working in the Japanese speaking space are able to help me facilitate the bridging of any linguistic, cultural or logistical gaps that remain.”

A sign that shows two figures with a stylised kangaroo between them.
Image: Hopping into COVID restrictions: This sign in the Olympic village accommodation gives Aussies some tips for social distancing.


While the Olympics role is a personal achievement, Ms David said she was also excited for what it meant for students of Woonona High School.

“The Olympics is the best of the best and my aim is to bring back new perspectives and connections to the students and staff at Woonona High School,” she said.

“Through this service role, I also hope to bring back different ways to serve the school community, opening up connections for them, or bringing ways to improve what we already do.

“For example, an ex-student, Flynn Ogilvie, has been successful in being selected in the men’s hockey team and we are hoping to be able to Zoom into the school’s assembly from Tokyo if possible.

“There are several other high-performing students at Woonona High School who aspire for selection in Olympic teams in their chosen sports, so hopefully I will be able to facilitate meaningful connections for them also.

“One of the messages we give students every day is the Dr Seuss saying of ‘Your best is always good enough, but only your best will do’.

“All the Olympians were once school students going about their day just like the students at Woonona High School, so hopefully I will be able to inspire them to challenge themselves, and really achieve their personal best every day.”

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